Thomas Merton after 50 years

Fifty years ago, December 10, 1968, Thomas Merton left this world. His prophet words serve as a warning to the people of our times.

The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton’s autobiography of faith tells of God’s subtle enticement of Merton’s spirit. The ruins of Cistercian monasteries in France fascinated Young Thomas. He read a range of philosophers including Jacques Maritan and other Catholics who convinced Merton that Scholastic Philosophy offered the best explanation of reality.

Most of all, Merton was drawn by example. Before his conversion, he sat near a young woman at Mass. Her fervor and sincerity convinced Thomas of the strength of her faith and encouraged him to deepen his own.

Baroness de Heuck, a Russian immigrant, shaped his concept of social justice. During the Great Depression, Communist recruiters opened soup kitchens in Harlem. When hospitals refused medical treatment for persons of color; when landlords denied housing, and employers, jobs; Communists brought doctors, rented apartments, and offered financial support.

The Baroness noted that it was once said: “See how these Christians love one another.” She observed no sign of Catholic love in Harlem. The Cardinal and Bishops dined with the wealthy but ignored the poorest within the Archdiocese.

The Baroness frightened establishment Catholics with her application of the social encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII and Pius IX. She embarrassed pastors in Harlem who hired white tradesmen to repair their buildings when Harlem residents stood in unemployment lines. She claimed that the Catholic Church was “just a front for Capitalism.”

She established Friendship House and Blessed Martin de Porres Center—Catholic Christian responses to the social needs of Harlem. Merton worked there briefly, but the experience influenced his social justice message.

In Merton’s discussion of sins and virtues, he noted that during the period leading up to the Great Depression, the Capital Sins of Pride and Greed had become virtues. Americans of the 1920s chose personal and national greatness over goodness and humility; unregulated growth and the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few over a disciplined and reliable economic system that allowed everyone to benefit. Merton’s words warn Americans about the consequences of its Roaring 20/20ies economic injustice—redistribution of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich and the threat of another depression. Greatness is not measured in triumphalism or superiority but love and justice.

America ignores the prophetic words of Thomas Merton, Popes Leo, Pius, and Francis at its peril.


The Newton Maniac


At summer camp— away from the smog-shrouded city—the Milky-Way glistened as diamonds flung upon their midnight-velvet backdrop. Each August, constellations fragmented as the Perseid Meteor Shower dropping stars to earth as fireflies, lightning-bugs and glow-worms. Camp’s where I learned to swim, ride horses, mangle crafts, scratch poison ivy, and engrave memories and friendships that endure even now.

PJ and I renewed our bond each June as if the school months between the summers hadn’t existed. We neither wrote nor called. In fact, I had no idea where he lived, but the unspoken link remained.

The camp director assigned us to the same cabin, named after the Lenape, a tribe that had once dominated these forests. PJ and I did everything together—meals, swimming, crafts and team sports. After supper, we shared the mess hall piano to play Heart and Soul. My left hand moved like a spider to key the bumba-dumba, bumba-dumba, bumba-dumba, bumba-dumba. PJ’s right hand added the, tink, tink, tink, datink, datink. We brooked no variation, because this was our song.

Between supper, the piano and the bugler’s mournful taps, our nighttime entertainment occasionally included ghost stories, none more frightening than those told by a Monsignor who visited from a nearby parish. He strolled about as the sun set—wearing his cassock decorated with purple buttons, piping and sash—greeting the boys from his town, but he smiled at all as we gathered under the stars in the middle of the baseball diamond.

The counselors brought him a wooden chair and we campers sat cross-legged before him, swatting mosquitoes until the Monsignor redirected the voice that had preached thousands of sermons, to utter tales of horror.

“Boys,” he’d intoned and looked about, “don’t ever go into the woods after dark. I’m telling you for your own good because there is a maniac running among the trees; it’s stronger than a thousand bulls, and has killed many over the years. I wouldn’t want you to join that number. I’d grieve, even if they ever found your body, to vest in black for your funeral.”

The Monsignor snatched our attention as he detailed the mangled corpses flung by the merciless, Newton Maniac. A shiver rattled my ribs as the goose bumps popped where sweat had just glistened on my arms. The whites of PJ’s eyes grew brighter as he bit his lower lip.

The Monsignor cupped his hand to his ear. “Can you hear the scream? Is that wailing in the forest, the Maniac, his most recent victim or a victim’s ghost?” He turned his head following the piercing shriek as it traveled from west to east.

We could trace the inhuman moan, rising in pitch, crossing the woods beyond our cabins. My grandpa often described the banshee’s screech. My dad said it was an old-country myth, but this scream was real and rushing at us. My knees knocked until I hugged them still. The night air retained enough heat to comfort us, so why my chill, I asked as the unearthly screaming tracked among the darkened hardwood groves. My lips moved in desperate prayers, but as the sound faded to the east, my heart-beat slowed back to normal.

Lest we grow complacent, the Monsignor reminded us, “The Newton Maniac had killed an entire family just a few days ago. The children were about your age.”

I glanced about at nodding heads and quivering lips. Even Jack, our counselor seemed deeply concerned. Later, as we prepared for bed, Jack confirmed the existence of the Newton Maniac, the horror of the recent deaths and our need to stay clear of the woods. He warned we’d best behave or the Maniac would come for us. PJ and I agreed we’d never hike through the woods even in broad daylight lest the Maniac count us among its victims. Nightly visits to the latrines required the company of PJ, our flashlight and our baseball bats should the Maniac leap from the dark.

On one of the last nights of that summer season, campers assigned to the Iroquois, banged on the walls of the Lenape’s cabin screaming, “The Newton Maniac’s coming through the woods. You’d better run.”

We of the Lenape cabin raised our baseball bats, rushed into the dark woods shouting our war cry, to engage the Maniac in battle.

The Iroquois campers stopped and laughed, “You Lenape are suckers!”

It was a foolish thing to say to a tribe, armed and ready to shed blood. Again, the scream of the Newton Maniac pierced the night, breaking the stalemate. The Iroquois campers scampered for safety. We of the Lenape ran to engage the Maniac, now approaching at a tremendous speed. We of the Lenape raised our bats, only to see the Maniac whiz by us into the night. We had prevailed, not over the Maniac, but over our fears and the taunts of the Iroquois. We marched back singing our victory chant, ignoring the Iroquois.

The Monsignor told no lie. A Newton Maniac sped, screaming among the trees. It had killed, usually at railway crossings. The Monsignor for dramatic effect never identified the Maniac as a train in the service of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, nor mention that the deceased had neglected crossing signals and the Maniac’s warning call before the engine’s impact launched them and their shattered vehicles into the waiting branches.

History has consumed The Newton Maniac, the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, the Monsignor, the camp and our final season before high school.

In our last minutes together, PJ and I warmed the piano bench for one more Heart and Soul. We left in silence so that final chord would always vibrate within us. I wonder now, how PJ, the Lenape and other campers fared over the decades. As I recalled those times and friends, I wished them well, especially, PJ, wherever he is.

If you’re out there PJ, I hope you remember Heart and Soul. Do you still feel the vibration?


Try this link for a musical accompaniment:

Drawing by Nancy Ann Mulcare (© 2014 Nancy Ann Mulcare)

The Newton Maniac (© 2014 Donald J. Mulcare)

Grace in the Wilderness: Reflections on God’s Sustaining Word along Life’s Journey, by Brother Francis de Sales Wagner, O.S.B.


Brother Francis de Sales offers his readers a source of joy, leading them into the desert where they feast on the reality of God.

The Liturgical New Year will soon dawn, a time for new beginnings, not only with reflections on the saints of the day, but the profound messages of the scriptural cycles found in the weekend liturgies. Grace in the Wilderness guides the reader with daily meditations organized by common theme, using the table of contents and in relationship to the three liturgical cycles, using a Liturgical Year Index.

These meditations, the “fruits of (Brother Francis’) prayer, study and reflection (were) primarily gathered from posts on (his) personal blog (first,, and, later, from 2009 to 2013.”

He encourages other blog writers with these words: “Each meditation was written as an individual piece at a certain point in time. It so happens (after I finally heeded blog readers who urged me to collect the posts into a book), that when they were gathered, adapted and organized thematically, together the reflections seemed to coalesce around the theme outlined” in the table of contents.

Brother Francis de Sales’ reflections remind us that the God extends grace to aid us through our journey across the wilderness of life. God nourishes through the conversation of prayer and the feast of frequent participation in the Eucharist. God guides us to conversion from a world-oriented heart to a heart exploded with love for our Creator. The author reminds us that everything about us calls us to recognize the presence, actually the hand of God. The world celebrates the “Holidays,” forgetting their significance in a blitz of commercialism. Instead, those called to ride the rhythm of the liturgical year celebrate the deeper meaning of giving thanks, waiting through Advent for the coming of the Messiah and the celebration of Epiphany. We celebrate Easter best after a sincere Lent, meeting the Messiah on the road to Emmaus, not the warrior king but the suffering servant now raised from the dead.

We are called to the wilderness to empty ourselves of the world, but are reminded (by Saint Paul”: “Do not worry about anything,” he urges, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Treat yourself to a gift for all seasons, liturgical and otherwise by including a meditation from Grace in the Wilderness: Reflections on God’s Sustaining Word along Life’s Journey in your daily spiritual exercises.

Wagner, Br. Francis de Sales. Grace in the Wilderness: Reflections on God’s Sustaining Word along Life’s Journey. St. Meinrad, IN: Abbey Press. 2013

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Figure: Rhythm in Glass, Alcohol Ink on Yupo by Nancy Ann Mulcare, © 2013

The Chronicles of Xan, Part I: Shadow in the Dark (Second Edition, OakTara Publishers 2013) by Antony Barone Kolenc

The Chronicles Trilogy unfolds during Lent of 1184 AD. The author invites the reader to feel, see, hear, taste and smell life as it was. The smells aren’t always pleasant. With the Rule of Saint Benedict as their guide the monks of Harwood Abbey and the nuns in the adjacent convent “Prayed and Worked” as they lived out the liturgical rhythm, threw themselves into their ministries, labored in the fields or scriptorium, advancing toward a richer personal and communal peace; order and mutual love. Well, almost; Brother Leo was quite agrouch and would argue with almost anyone. Despite his outbursts, charity and peace prevailed.

Bandits violently sowed discord as they raided nearby Hardonbury Manor. They killed or scattered the serfs. A dark robed figure rescued the bleeding and unconscious thirteen-year-old Xan. He regained consciousness in the Abbey’s infirmary and slowly entered the communal life of the monastic orphanage. Brother Andrew became his teacher and father figure; Sister Regina, Xan’s confidant and mother figure. Lucy, also a young teen from the convent befriended Xan opening the possibility of intimacy in their relationship over time. Xan confronted the bullies of the orphanage and won friends among the younger boys.

Soon a frightful mystery consumed the orphan boys: they spied a dark clad figure, perhaps death itself who stalked the monastery. The orphans wondered, “Who is this dark stranger?” Xan no less frightened than the others, earned respect for his bravery and wisdom as he and his young friends sorted through the evidence in search of the missing clue to the mysterious shadow and its close association with death.  Meanwhile Xan’s life and that of the entire community suffered from the complex church vs. state conflicts that threatened lives at the monastery. With each chapter Xan grew as a person preparing for his future path.

The Chronicles of Xan fall into the category of Juvenile Fiction, mainly because Xan the protagonist and his young friends carry the story. The young reader can identify with the heroics and wisdom of Xan as well as his everyday problems: dealing with a bully, weighing his feelings toward a girl friend, considering his future and the major problems he faced as an orphan. Xan, like modern young adults and persons of all ages, pondered questions such as, “Why does God permit suffering?” Why does God punish me?” “Is there a God?” “How do we find happiness in an imperfect world?” “How can I forgive those who murdered my parents?” Fortunately for Xan, the greater monastic community had embraced him, offered him security, education, acceptance and guidance as he sought solutions to these troublesome questions.

Antony Kolenc has skillfully woven a story that will satisfy people of all ages. He maintained a high level of suspense, laid out tempting clues along with the red herrings, while he educated his readers. For instance he used dialog rich in phrased likely used in 1148 AD. He defined modern terms that originated in medieval times and carefully described the world in which Xan lived and worked. Kolenc researched the details of the monastic life as it played out during the reign of England’s Henry II with the aid of Dr. Jennifer Paxton, an expert in Medieval History, to insure that the second edition of Shadow in the Dark met his high standards.

The Chronicles demonstrate practical spirituality. Through Xan the readers are challenged to live out their beliefs and turn toward God for answers to their own troublesome questions. Although Shadow in the Dark meets the definition of Juvenile fiction, this adult enjoyed it and benefited from it.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

The Haunted Cathedral, by Antony Barone Kolenc (published by OakTara, 2013)

How could a story about Xan, a twelfth century English orphan possibly relate to today’s youngsters? Xan was neither caped-crusader nor superhero. Violence destroyed his neighborhood and family. He was poor, undernourished, homeless, and the victim of bullies. His relationship with his girlfriend became very complicated. Xan had no real control over his life and destiny. As a serf, the lord of his manor “owned” him. His uncle could have forced him to move away from his friends and serve as his apprentice in an unfamiliar city. With all this baggage, the reader can see why resentment could grow in Xan’s heart.

Xan’s teacher Brother Andrew reminded the boy that we pray “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And “If someone strikes your right cheek, turn your left as well.” Xan found these scriptures harsh especially after his bleeding mouth had swollen from a bully’s punch and when the Abbot prevented the local lord from executing the leader of the bandits who raided Xan’s village, killed his family and then attacked the monastery, injuring the Abbot.

Xan reflected on his difficulties during a cart ride from rural Harwood Abbey to the major city of Lincoln, its castle and haunted cathedral. His companions on this trip included, Brother Andrew, two armed guards and Carlo, the hated leader of the bandit gang. The relationships between the passengers reached a climax in a confrontation between Xan and Carlo. Could Xan see any good in the bandit? Could he trust Carlo with the lives of others?

While Xan awaited a meeting with his uncle, to decide his future, he toured Lincoln with neighborhood children. They showed him the sights, especially the haunted cathedral. Xan and his new friends attempted to solve the ghostly-mystery. Again, Xan’s analytical powers aided by the advice of trusted adults and the cunning of his companions, brings to light what had confounded everyone else. Carlo provided a key to the mystery, in the form of an unwelcome gift. Xan reluctantly accepted the gift while hating it almost as much as he hated Carlo. As events unfolded, the gift revealed its life-changing significance, suggesting repentance and inviting forgiveness.

Antony Barone Kolenc keeps his readers in constant suspense with his twisted story line while he delivers a powerful emotional punch and material for spiritual reflection. The Chronicles of Xan II: The Haunted Cathedral, speaks to all generations as it represents the pain and promise of growing up in any century. It recognizes the gift of children, their contributions to the community and the need for intergenerational dialogue. Antony Barone Kolenc has carefully crafted this second book in the Xan Trilogy as and excellent resource for educators, parents and youthful students. It deserves a place at the top of reading lists for school reading programs and in the personal libraries of those who love a great mystery.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

The Chronicles of Xan III: The Fire of Eden (OakTara Publishers, 2013)

The Fire of Eden (Antony Barone Kolenc, published by OakTara Press, 2013)

For better or worse, others have imposed major decisions and their consequences on the lives of children. Nevertheless, even young people have made decisions that affected the rest of their lives. In Chronicles of Xan III: The Fire of Eden like Adam and Eve, most of the characters in this mystery must decide between good and evil, life and death, hope and despair, which calling they should follow and where should they store their treasures. Once decided, the characters must pay the cost and reap the benefits of their choices.

The third phase of Antony Barone Kolenc’s Chronicles of Xan trilogy reveals long hidden secrets of his all too human characters. Their weaknesses fueled Xan’s doubts as to his own pathway. His uncle pressed him to accept his invitation to apprenticeship. The monks of Harwood Abbey offered Xan a place in their novitiate. His relationship with Lucy intensified as providence brought them together.

The story began as a Church-State conflict complicated plans for Brother Andrew’s ordination. Consequently, a party from Harwood Abbey, including its Prior, Father Clement, Brother Andrew, several other monks, Xan and a select group of orphans traveled north to Grenton Priory, more of a wayside hostel than a rigorous monastic community. Among the other wayfarers lurked swindlers, highwaymen and a mysterious stranger. Brother Andrew’s mother, her servants and armed guards, Lucy and her brother all converged on the Priory.  Brother Andrew’s family secrets and his early-life decisions came to light to the discomfort of many. As the assembled cast of characters awaited the arrival of the Prince-Bishop of Durham, a seemingly impossible theft raised suspicion that an evil magician had moved through walls or bewitched the guardians of a priceless treasure.

Meanwhile the children entertained themselves about the Priory. Once the official investigation of the theft began, Xan and his young friends coordinated their gifts and disabilities to address the mystery. Their adventures included surveillance, tracking the movements of priory guests, including the mysterious stranger and a foray into the lair of the evil magician.

At the conclusion of The Fire of Eden each of the many characters, especially Xan, Lucy, Father Andrew and their many friends from Harwood Abbey reached the point where they must each decide what to keep and what to let go in order to gain a better prize. Their lives could never be the same at least not until the author writes another book in the series.

Kolenc represents the conflicts in the lives of the young while offering hope that despite impossible circumstances, with the grace of our loving God and the assistance of loving friends, the people of God can overcome any situation to walk together through every storm life throws at them. In an often dark and hopeless world and a literature that offers little hope, Kolenc’s Chronicles of Xan calls out in the bleakness to guide readers around the obstacles and traps toward hope and happiness. The Chronicles of Xan trilogy belongs on the top of any school or personal reading list for the young and readers of ever age.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)